Just left the 2008 NBA Draft media availability. This is where the NBA delivers top prospects to a hotel ballroom full of media.
It's fun, in a "feeding time for the piranhas" kind of way.
Only, at this point, the media are hardly piranhas. These are all softball questions. The players are new to everybody. It's a feeling out process.
I spent most of my time listening to Jerryd Bayless, Michael Beasley, Joe Alexander, and Russell Westbrook.
Various thoughts and observations:
The conversation is frequently along the lines of "tomorrow you're going to get super rich!" But, clearly, that timeline is not entirely accurate. All the prospects are in extremely nice clothes, and staying in nice hotels. Jerryd Bayless has his initials monogrammed onto the cuff of his very expensive looking shirt. Derrick Rose is wearing a watch that appears to be dipped in diamonds. ("I don't know," he laughed. "I just woke up and it was at my door.") My understanding is that the NBA salaries don't start rolling in until the fall, and no one really has endorsement money yet, that I am aware of. Once you are declared for the draft, however, the NCAA rules are off, and you're free to take gifts and loans from agents, advisors, and the like, and many top players end up getting lines of credit from banks that are only too happy to help out.
Derrick Rose said one of his goals for his rookie season is to be MVP of the league. He knows that talk is a little crazy. But he's also not going to give it up. Asked what kind of player he expects to be in the next five years, he said: "Not a star, but like, a superstar. Something around, like, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, something like that." You know how loves to hear that list? Paul Pierce. Two months ago, no way he makes the cut.
What I think about this matters none, but in terms of who struck me as being the most poised, the one who sounds like an adult, ready to face NBA challenges, of the players I talked to, I'll take Russell Westbrook. He wasn't reciting lines. He was talking as himself. I can only imagine what it's like to have riches, fame, and having no idea which city you'll be living in all rolled into a short period of time. It would be normal to be a little wound up. I asked him if he was sleeping OK these days, and he got a look on his face like "oh you have no idea who unstressed I am about this." He said he has not had trouble sleeping. I believe him.
Joe Alexander had a pleasing gravity to him. Deep voice, which he uses with deliberation. Most of those guys are 19, but Joe is 21, and grew up partially in China, fought his older brothers for respect on the court, and knows he can play at the next level. He's poised too. He said he has been paranoid about making it to the NBA for so long, and it'll be nice to be able to relax, "for about a week." Then he'll be right back to being paranoid, I guess.
Michael Lee of the Washington Post asked Michael Beasley -- who famously got in trouble for a high-school prank -- if he still does pranks. Beasley shot Lee the wryest of sideways glances, and said "maybe." Nothing says "yes" like that look combined with a "maybe." He was also asked about his most extreme college prank. He looked at all the reporters and wisely announced that he could not tell us that. He reminds me just a little bit of Charles Barkley. But whereas young Charles Barkley was hung up on making money and the like, young Michael Beasley is putting extra effort into stuff like pranks.
Beasley was also asked about playing in various cities, and he didn't seem to care all that much about the particulars of this or that place. Eventually he pointed out that he had played at Oak Hill Academy. That school is just outside Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you can play there, said Beasley, you can play on the moon. It would be sweet if that quote made it into the Oak Hill brochure.